An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Changing religions’

Surprise Convert

My brother Dooby developed contempt for Mormonism from his childhood experience with active Mormons including our stepmother, who indulged a grudge against him, and our dad, who was blind to the pain his son suffered. Dooby extended his feelings about Mormonism to all religions and enjoyed making atheist statements which shocked our relatives. His first marriage to a devout Mormon ended in divorce, and Doob vowed to do everything possible to undermine the Mormon beliefs of his children.

Dooby’s influence with his daughters’ belief system was minimal. Eventually, he married Kato, a practicing Buddhist, began practicing meditation and yoga, and spoke against religion less frequently.  Despite his mellowing, I never expected Dooby to become a believing Christian.

Maybe, I should have seen it coming. A few years ago Dooby decided he needed a Bible since literature is so full of biblical illusions. Then he began advocating for Intelligent Design to be taught in public school science classes. I believed his interest in the issue was mostly political and found it odd to be arguing against Intelligent Design with a confirmed agnostic. Still, Doob surprised me when he said he was taking instruction in Catholicism.

“I’ve been looking for a church for awhile. I knew I couldn’t attend one that had cars with Obama stickers in the parking lot, so the Unitarians were out. I checked out the parking lot at St. Olaf’s, saw no bumper stickers, and went in.”

After a year of instruction, Dooby was baptized. “They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. When they said I would be forgiven for all my sins, for every bad thing I’ve ever done, and go to Heaven when I died, I was in. I did think about getting a load of Viagra and committing a bunch more sins first, but Kato said with a load of Viagra I might not live long enough to get baptized.”

Dooby didn’t rush into his baptism decision. After a year of instruction, he understands the doctrine and traditions to which he has committed. Catholicism seems to be working for Dooby. He likes and respects his priest and the parishioners he has met. He is currently dealing with his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment with reasonable serenity.

I suspect the early teaching in religion Dooby received from our mother and from Jr. Sunday School and Primary kicked in. I rather think God is pleased that Doob is receiving peace from the Catholic fold. Surely, an all-knowing God knows that not all people respond to the same faith tradition.

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Inner Change

As a Mormon, I find the Calvinist doctrine of salvation by grace for the elect unappealing. It seems unfair that a person’s good behavior on earth doesn’t count. Not all birthright Mormons feel this way, of course. Todd, the leader of my first Buddhist sangha, said he left Mormonism because, “I could never be good enough, no matter how hard I tried.”

Our older son had a similar experience with Mormonism. A Calvinist church, which taught the doctrine of salvation by grace, reassured him of God’s love for mortals who fall short of perfection.

Our younger son, the opposite of his brother, flaunted authority and broke rules almost from day one. Mormon concepts of being good in order to merit blessings and avoid punishments struck him as manipulation by those in power. Oddly enough, he followed his brother into Calvinism. None of us thought it would last.

For several years, I’ve tried to understand the appeal of Calvinism to our sons. I recently gleaned some understanding from Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor executed by the Nazis in 1945. The foreword by Timothy J. Keller has the clearest definition of grace I’ve read. Keller dismisses as cheap grace the concept of being saved by God’s love no matter how a person lives. He defines as legalism the concept of being saved by laws and works: “God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life.” Keller would likely place the Mormon doctrine, “by grace we are saved after all we can do,” (2 Ne. 25:23) in this category.

Keller credits Bonhoeffer with teaching costly grace—the idea that we are saved by grace alone, but “if we have truly understood and believed the gospel, it will change what we do and how we live.” True believers love and serve God out of gratitude for what they have already been given, not for what they expect to receive.

Like Mormons who believe those of the lineage of Israel will hear and accept the gospel message, Calvinists tend to believe that those elected to salvation will heed and live the gospel. Both my sons found the idea of having already received grace rather than needing to earn it appealing. Both have changed their lives—not from fear of losing salvation or missing blessings, but from love and gratitude to God who loves them unconditionally.

Certainly, I have heard many sincere testimonies from Mormons who have joined the Church and changed their lives. I believe a teaching that causes inner change in a person, which is manifest in outward behavior, is a true teaching for that person.

My own inner change has come mostly from Buddhist teachings of acceptance, mindfulness, and connectedness. Accepting myself as I am has made me more tolerant of others. Being mindful of the present moment helps slow me down to savor this life and to value the relationships I enjoy now rather than those I might expect to find in Heaven. Recognizing my connectedness to other people and to the natural world makes me want to for care the earth and all its inhabitants.

Friendly Divorce?

Our new home teacher decided to give us a lesson last month.
He dutifully opened his Ensign and
told us President Eyring’s message gave him some new thoughts about tithing. He
read a few quotes from the text and told us of the blessings he’s received from
paying tithing. George and I were uncomfortable. Even when I was a believing
member, I objected to the self-serving notion of paying tithing in anticipation
of reaping blessings.

When Brother deVowt paused for our comments, George said
that he and I have so many blessings we don’t ask for more; we just give
thanks. I agreed with our HT that generosity is a great virtue. I didn’t
elaborate on why I now choose to bestow my offerings elsewhere. We don’t care
to undermine our home teachers’ faith, but neither do we want to be proselytized.

At least our home teacher did not read the entire message
verbatim, then offer tearful testimony of its truthfulness as my Relief Society
visiting teachers did until I asked them to skip the message during their
visits. That request probably got me dropped from my own visiting teaching
calling.

I know George and I could have our names removed from the
rolls of the church and avoid contact with the faithful entirely, but we had
hoped to maintain a casual relationship with the church of our heritage. George
feels an attachment to the institution which has provided him with spiritual
experiences in the past. Neither of us wants to divorce ourselves from our
neighbors or place a possible barrier between ourselves and believing family
members.

Maybe we’re in the
position of a divorced spouse—grateful to be out of a relationship that wasn’t
working—but still bound by years of shared experience. Being good friends after
a split is a status few divorced couples achieve. It generally takes more than
a few years—and forgetting the past seems to come more easily to those who
leave than to those they abandon.

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